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Re: <nettime> We are what we tweet: The Problem with a Big Data World wh
Brian Holmes on Tue, 4 Jun 2013 19:42:51 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> We are what we tweet: The Problem with a Big Data World when Everything You Say is Data

Here's something interesting:

On 06/03/2013 07:04 PM, Fenwick Mckelvey wrote:

> ... we must come to terms with our own online activities
> feeding the appetites of algorithmically-driven machines designed to
> facilitate the expansion of profit and power by quantifying and
> modulating our desires.

This is a great text, particularly for the literary references and fundamentally because it recognizes how data-gathering feeds back into what the artist Sze Tsung Leong once called "control space": an urban environment outfitted with both sensors and screens, and designed in order to wrap itself around the constantly shifting parameters of publicly expressed affect and interest, until one of its seductive interfaces succeeds in capturing *you*.

On Sunday, as I drove by the croporate offices of the sinister data-aggregating and direct-marketing company Acxiom, in Aurora, Illinois - which itself is a statistical artifact that Thoman Pynchon or maybe William Gibson should have written about - I found myself thinking back to the evanescent and yet terribly concrete world of control space, which I had explored in 2007 in the text "Future Map: Or How the Cyborgs Learned to Sop Worrying and Love Surveillance." At that time I had some conclusions, which are close to, but still not quite the same as those presented in the paper by Fenwick Mckelvey and friends:

"One thing we could do is to create more precise images and more evocative metaphors of the neoliberal art of government, in order to heighten awareness of the ways that intimate desire is predicted and manipulated. Such images and metaphors are desperately lacking, along with a Karl Marx of cybercapitalism. But another, more important thing we can do is to dig into the existential present and transform the everyday machines, by hacking them into unexpected shapes and configurations that can provide collaborative answers to the spaces of control. Critical communities of deviant subjectivity, forming at the site of the eviscerated private/public divide, are not subcultural frivolities but attempts to reinvent the very basis of the political. What’s at stake is the elaboration of different functional rules for our collective games, which in today’s society cannot be put into effect without the language of technology."


In the conclusion to their paper, Mckelvey, Tiessen and Simcoe turn to a discussion of exploits and pranks, which they conceive as momentary subversive interruptions of the data-flow. The most suggestive example is a faked AP tweet saying that president Obama had been attacked, which caused a momentary 0.9% decline in the value of the S&P 500, amounting (for a few minutes) to the disappearance of $130 billion of stock-market value. While I have an irrespressible fondness for these kinds of hacks, I think they are ultimately trivial. In fact, much high-frequency trading (in the strict sense of the term) operates on a similar principle, to the extent that the algorithms offer false purchase orders, then retract them while simultaneously taking advantage of the perturbation of the information environment already effected by the false orders. At best, the prank cannot compete with the characteristic internal errors of the system itself: nothing on the scale of the 2010 "flash crash" of the stock market has ever been carried out by a hacker.

What I meant by "critical communities of deviant subjectivity, forming at the site of the eviscerated private/public divide" has since been exemplified by the events of 2010-11, when the vast operation of information piracy and social hacking carried out by Wikileaks contributed to the unleashing of the Arab Spring, and when protesters around the world massively appropriated Facebook and Twitter, not to create perturbations within the control network, but to radically shift the rules of the attention economy away from screenic fascination and toward the embodied spaces of occupation. The result of this experience, among many groups of politicized hackers and Internet aficionados, has been the realization that there is a huge, simmering and at times explosive social conflict over the uses of the all-pervasive net, which can be twisted away from its dominant functions of simulation/stimulation and used instead as a tool for the direct-democratic and revolutionary investment of urban space with living, feeling, speaking bodies-on-the-ground. In Spain these events have been subjected to a vast and searching quantitative examination by the group DataAnalysis 15-M (http://datanalysis15m.wordpress.com). This study reveals that the participants of the Indignado movement were able to collectively generate affects, subjects of critical attention and emancipatory concepts in real time, within and against the flow of events on the ground (notably police repression) and events in the media sphere (disdain and disinformation from the established political parties and the punditocracy).

The idea that a simple blip in the information flow is the pinnacle of postmodern subversion dates back precisely to the days of Baudrillard and the conceit of hyperreality. The world we live in is different. Threatened by economic breakdown, civil war and climate change, it is a world whose miserable, and yet to be sure, tremendously powerful capacities of simulation are constantly cracking open to reveal their inadequacies, lies and abject failures on the ground. Critical intellectuals should not think inside the box of surveillance and informational modeling. They should light up and also follow the pathways that lead through it and outside it, to embodied conflicts over the life-and-death issues of the present.

best, Brian

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